Business Know-How for Contractors

August 2022

Victor Hyman for HRAI

When I ask HVAC contractors why they got into this business, I invariably get one of three answers. First, I'm often told that they were born into the business with "a flashlight in their hand," and took over from their parents. Second, people tell me they were working for someone else and became convinced they could run their own business better than the guy they were working for. And finally, the third group comprises the wives who are business partners with those in the second group who tell me that their husbands lied to them and told them it would be fun to work together.

What nobody tells me is that they graduated from business school and found HVAC to be a really compelling business. HVAC is a challenging business for so many reasons; it is super seasonal, highly regulated, requires a broad skill set to run, and there is lots of competition and little market differentiation. And to top it all off, growing your business to the point where you have a business you want to own or someone wants to buy requires one to learn a whole new set of skills that they didn't teach in trade school or during an apprenticeship.

Finding the “Why”

It seems that the biggest challenge everyone has today is finding the right people; those who not only have the basic skills and aptitude to do the work but also want to work for you! The problem is you probably don't know why this mythical creature would want to work for you and not your competition. You offer a competitive hourly rate, benefits, and vacation policy, but so does everyone else. What makes you different from every other HVAC contractor they can work for?

Let’s start with your why.

First, it's valuable to ask: Is your job compelling to the right people? If your why is any of the three in the first paragraph, the first thing you need to do is stop and ask yourself why anyone would be interested in it and help perpetuate it. Figure out a why that is compelling.

Another term for why is the mission, vision, and values of your company. I know this sounds hokey – particularly, because one of my ClimateCare members told me the whole thing sounded hokey before he started working on it - but here’s the reality: you like to fix and install things. You went to school and apprenticed to learn how to do those things. You just haven’t learned how to fix your business yet. Like the first time you had to install a new furnace, the first step is to read the manual and follow the instructions.

Creating a mission, vision, and values for your company provides your people with the knowledge of where you want the business to go, why you want it to go there, and the rules that they need to follow. To borrow an analogy from Good to Great by Jim Collins, the mission is "the bus" that you are looking to fill with the "right people," the values are the rules of the road, and the vision is the ultimate destination.

What does that mean practically? Let me share with you an example from ClimateCare. ClimateCare's passion is helping Canadian residential home comfort retailers have more fun and make more money. And because we are member owned, we put members first. That mission is going to appeal to the kind of person who is energized by helping others, but it won't appeal to people who are just in it for themselves. And that is exactly the plan.

In your business you might think of yourself as a heating and cooling contractor. That is what you do, not why you do it. When you figure out your why and start sharing - or better yet, shouting it from the rooftops - you will find that the "right people" are drawn to your message.

Are you interested in learning more about how ClimateCare members have worked on developing a compelling Mission, Vision and Values and what we are doing to get the right people on the bus? Please connect with me at vhyman@climatecare.com or check out our website.


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